That flight was for the record books were on the line. Now it's about the money — a $10 million payoff for years of secret work.
To get the Ansari X Prize, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman, it must make two flights within two weeks at least 62 miles high — an altitude generally accepted as being in space.
"The race begins. After eight years of waiting, race day is here," said X Prize Foundation chairman Peter Diamandis.
The prize rules require that the two flights occur within 14 days. SpaceShipOne's creators ambitiously set the second flight for Monday, in less than half the time allowed.
SpaceShipOne was to fly with a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers aboard in accordance with rules requiring X Prize contenders to be capable of carrying three people on a suborbital hop into space.
Slung beneath a specially designed jet, SpaceShipOne was expected to take off at 6:47 a.m. PDT from Mojave Airport, spend an hour climbing to about 47,000 feet, fall free from the mothership and ignite its rocket for a fast joyride into space, then fall back into the atmosphere minutes later and glide home.
Official confirmation of the altitude reached was expected about two hours later.
The Ansari X Prize was modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize that Charles Lindbergh won in his Spirit of St. Louis for the first New York-to-Paris flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
The St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation, noting the rapid development of air travel after Lindbergh's feat, hopes to inspire an era of space tourism in which spaceflight is not just the domain of government agencies such as NASA.
The idea appeared to be working far faster than might have been expected.
Maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, with more than $20 million in funds from Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, secretly developed SpaceShipOne and is well ahead of two dozen teams building X Prize contenders around the world.
And already the ultimate goal of the X Prize appears in sight.
Richard Branson, the airline mogul and adventurer, announced in London on Monday that his Virgin Group plans to offer passenger flight into space aboard rockets based on SpaceShipOne by 2007.
Branson believes he will fly some 3,000 people into space in the first five years that Virgin Galactic spaceline is operating.